When Nets management assembled this superstar roster, they anticipated every piece would contribute to the puzzle. The results have left the Nets puzzled.
Whether injuries, a faulty concept, or inexperienced coaching caused the Nets’ 7-14 quagmire, the answers become clearer by the day: two individuals need to pull the team out of the fire.
Williams led the Nets past the Celtics, 104-96, and delivered a vintage performance along the way. He knocked down jumpers, ran in space, and protected the ball.
Williams did everything is coached wanted en route to a 25-point, 7-assist performance.
“He’s a guy we missed while he was out,” Kidd said. “He can put pressure in a single-fast break and also just setting the table for his teammates, and I thought he did that tonight.
“Just his presence gave everybody a lift tonight.”
Williams and Kidd have always been close. They played golf together, and they speculated about playing in the same city when both tested the free agent market.
Surprisingly, they both opted for New York in 2012. Different Burroughs, though.
Kidd’s decision to eliminate Williams’ minutes restrictions displayed the kind of trust he has in his point guard. Perhaps more than Williams had in himself for one night.
“I wasn’t sure (how I would play),” Williams said. “I only had one practice and the ankle was a little sore, a little tender... so a little bit surprised.”
After 21 games, the Nets face the opposite problem than earlier anticipated. The Nets need more leaders and less followers.
At their respective ages, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett serve as role players. While most banked on the duo playing a far more substantial role, these two players will not lead the Nets to the promised land. They will, however, do what their coach asks of them.
Pierce and Garnett continue to tote the company line, even when many would understand a maniacal outburst. For example, Pierce came off the bench against the Celtics in his return from a broken hand.
Kidd would not commit to Pierce’s role long-term.
Players and fans alike look to Williams in the good times and bad. Williams has generated a notorious reputation for poor body language, whether a fair criticism or not. Anyone spending any amount of time around the franchise would know he’s dealt with the topic enough to teach a class at NYU. “Professor Williams reporting for Body Language 101” has a nice ring to it.
Garnett gave Williams the utmost praise following the game.
“D-Will set the tone for how we (were) going to play tonight,” Garnett said. “I thought against Avery (Bradley’s) pressure, he went back at the pressure. He set a lot of us up for easy shots, shots that we can make... and kept it simple.”
And although the Nets draped a Brook Lopez banner over the IDT building on Broad Street when the Nets called Newark home, Lopez is not the face of the franchise. That tag belongs to Williams, who signed a five-year, $98 million contract after the Nets courted him harder than any man will ever court a woman.
Even LeBron James never faced the kind of shameless promotion displayed by the Nets. Heck, Williams woke up on his birthday and found a 128-square foot birthday card outside his Manhattan home. Subtlety at its finest.
The Nets engaged in this odd behavior for a reason: They believed in Williams’ ability to lead a franchise, kind of like the way he did in Utah.
The Nets saw that Tuesday night. Williams paced a Nets’ offense that shot 65.7 percent from the field in the first half and finished the game 55.7 percent. Williams dissected the defense and mainly took what the Celtics gave him, which involved a heavy dose of Lopez.
But the Nets clearly go as far as Williams will take them. Williams dominates the ball on every play, an opportunity any point guard relishes. In Williams’ absence, however, no Net wanted that responsibility, at least not players who should command the ball for the majority of the game.
Andray Blatche wants the ball, and although beat writers affectionately call him point-Blatche, he should not manipulate a possession the way Williams, Johnson, or Pierce ordinarily would.
Neither Johnson nor Pierce are natural-born ball-handlers either. While Williams nursed his ankle injury, the Nets relied on Shaun Livingston and Tyshawn Taylor. Consider them game managers a la Alex Smith while Williams serves as Tom Brady.
“It’s a huge difference,” Garnett said. “He understands flow, not that Shaun Livingston and some of the other guys don’t, but that’s the reason he starts... You have to have savvy, strong-minded point guards that understand flow, understand rhythm.”
While Williams hinted the ankle still bothers him, he certainly wanted to help out his team. His biggest test comes Thursday night at the Barclays Center when Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers come to Brooklyn.